Teaching a Left-Handed Child

Since only 11-15% of the population is left-handed, you may be surprised when you first discover your child is left-handed. So, when teaching a left-handed child gross motor and fine motor skills, there are a few special points to consider.

Let lefties be lefties

The most important piece of information for parents of children who seem to be favoring their left hand is this: let them.

All people naturally favor one hand over the other. That hand (called the “dominant hand”) is typically stronger and more coordinated than the other hand (called the non-dominant hand”). Forcing your child to use his right hand when he shows a preference for his left hand will only diminish his overall coordination as he will constantly struggle to complete tasks with his right hand that he could have more easily completed with his left hand.

Also, some children prefer the left side of their bodies for all activities, such as kicking, throwing and writing. Other children may write and cut with their left hands but do other activities, usually gross motor, with the right side of their body. Just allow your child to use whichever body part feels most comfortable to him.

6 Tips for teaching your left-handed child

  1. Teach the proper pencil grip. First, teach the proper pencil grip to your “lefty” child just as you would to a right-handed child. Even if you are right-handed, you can demonstrate the proper pencil grip to your child by holding the pencil correctly between the thumb and pointer finger on your left hand and allowing the pencil to rest on the middle finger on your left hand.

    Although the proper pencil grip is the same for left- and right-handed children, direct your left-handed child to hold the pencil slightly further back, approximately 1 or 1.5 inches from the point. To be able to see what they are writing as they form each letter, left-handed writers need to grip the pencil a little further back from the point. Also, by holding the pencil further from the point, a left-handed child can avoid smearing letters written in pencil as his hand drags over the letters, moving from left to right across the page.

    Writing left-handed

  2. Substitute pens for pencils. Pencil marks have a tendency to smudge if you rub over them with your hand. For a child just learning to write letters, smudged work is particularly frustrating. As left-handed people write, the side of their hand closest to the pinky finger naturally drags over each letter. To help avoid smudged work, encourage your child to write with a pen or fine-point marker since those lines will be more resistant to smudging.

  3. Invest in a pair of left-handed scissors. Left-handed scissors have cutting blades and finger loops positioned opposite to right-handed scissors. By reversing the position of the blades and finger loops, a left-handed child is able to hold the scissors comfortably and see the line he is cutting as he cuts. You can find a great pair of child-sized left-handed scissors here.

    While you are making the purchase, consider buying a second pair of left-handed scissors that your child can take with him to school. It is possible your child’s classroom may not have a left-handed pair of scissors, so by providing them for your child, you can be assured he will always have access to them.

    Once you have left-handed scissors available, demonstrate the proper scissors grip by using your left hand with the left-handed scissors. Direct your child to hold the paper in his right hand as his left hand operates the scissors.

  4. Demonstrate gross motor skills as a lefty. When teaching your child Gross Motor skills such as kicking, throwing and swinging a bat, stand in front of your child so that he is behind you, looking at your back. That way your child can observe you as you move and then mimic your movements exactly.

    After demonstrating the proper movement, stand directly beside your child and help him position his hands or feet correctly.

    Writing left-handed

  5. Tell your child he is left-handed. Most preschool-aged children have no idea if they are right- or left-handed. However, most teachers (like the majority of the population) are right-handed and will teach fine motor and gross motor activities by demonstrating with a right-handed approach.

    If your child knows that he is left-handed, he will be more likely to tell a teacher or physical education instructor “I am left-handed.” This will remind the teacher to demonstrate the proper form using a left-handed approach, or to at least verbally instruct your child how to complete the given activity as a lefty.

  6. Let your child experiment. When your child is first learning to use pencils or scissors or is first engaging in gross motor activities like throwing and kicking, allow him the freedom to experiment with what arm or leg feels most comfortable. Even if you suspect he may be a lefty, he might prefer to do certain things as a righty. Or, he may still be comfortable using both hands and not ready to commit to using exclusively left-handed scissors or a left-handed writing style.

    Some children do not demonstrate a clear hand preference until age 5 or 6, so give your child the freedom to experiment.

What can you share with other parents?

When did you first realize your child was left-handed? Does your left-handed child prefer to perform all activities with the left side of his body? If not, what activities does your child prefer to do with his right hand? Have you found any tools specifically for lefties that have been helpful?

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Images used under Creative Commons from Sugar Pond and DNAMichaud.